|Primary Characters:||Leo, Mehmet|
|Description:||Leo and Mehmet try their best to get by in Dubrovnik, but when Mehmet takes a turn for the worse, there’s a crisis. Suddenly, Leo’s father’s men show up, intent on bringing Leo back. In the short run, it helps them solve the immediate problems, but is the price too high?|
Leo yawned, rubbing his sore hands. It was well past eleven and at last his work day was over. He was heading back to their new lodgings. It was relatively clean, but there was no privacy and far too many men in every room. Beds lined the walls. Next to each bed was a padlocked box for the lodgers’ possessions.
Leo suspected that some of their roommates were crawling with lice. The coarse sheets itched against his skin, but it was all they could afford and it was definitely safer than sleeping on the beach, which they’d considered those first desperate nights in the city.
Fortunately, they’d run into some African fruit pickers who had directed them to this place. There were even a number of Turks there, but Mehmet stayed apart from them, just in case. Most of the transients didn’t ask too many questions, so it was easy to avoid being noticed.
After the first few nights, they had found work doing dishes in a hotel. Despite Leo’s objections, Mehmet insisted on doing his part. After he’d finished his first shift there, Leo rushed off to his second job, as a cleaner in another hotel or, occasionally, in an office building. Not having any visas and no valid identification, they lived in fear of being deported, and avoided the authorities at any cost.
It was hard work, but at least it kept them afloat. They’d given up on ever getting to Bosnia. Traveling again, was simply beyond their means. Even three meals a day was too much for their strained budget. With any luck, it got them a roof over their heads and one or two meals, provided, of course, that they worked all day and well into the evening. Which was what Leo had done today, as every other day, including Sundays.
He was hoping Mehmet was already in bed, getting some sleep. Leo didn’t like to see his friend working so hard, so soon after being shot. It was obvious that the shoulder was still bothering him, despite Mehmet’s assurances to the contrary.
As silently as he could, Leo made his way into the dormitory. He made a face as he breathed in the close, stale air in there. Too many unwashed male bodies. By now, he knew exactly where his bed was, and could make his way there without waking anyone, unless by chance he ran into someone on his way out, to work, or to the bathroom.
Someone not so far away was coughing and there was a chorus of snoring, but Leo had already learned to block the noises out. The traffic from outside sometimes drowned it all out anyway.
He sank down on his bed, at the moment too exhausted to undress. Just a few minutes more and he’d – He came awake again with a start. His head had begun to nod. Maybe he’d better lie down. Tomorrow he’d take off his clothes.
His eyes closed of their own accord and less than a minute later he was fast asleep.
“Leo – wake up.”
His eyes fluttered open and a familiar face came into view. But there was something different about Mehmet’s face today. He looked – Leo instantly woke up.
“What’s wrong? You look -”
Mehmet turned away and began to walk towards the cafeteria.
“Hurry or there will be nothing left for you.”
There was even something wrong with the way he walked and – maybe it was just Leo’s imagination, but his friend sounded different too. The voice was dull and expressionless.
Leo hurried after Mehmet.
“Hey, Mehmet. Come on. What’s -”
He managed to catch up with his friend and grabbed the piece of bread and the cup of coffee that was included in the price. Lunch or dinner wasn’t served, so they had to find that elsewhere. At the moment, that wasn’t a priority for Leo.
Anxiously, he studied Mehmet’s face. He’d been right. There was something odd about the color. His friend looked as if he was running a temperature. Beads of sweat glistened on his forehead. This early in the morning, it wasn’t that hot in here. That came later in the day, but then they were usually out working.
Leo hesitated. His hand moved restlessly on his knee, while he made up his mind. In the end, he decided to ignore the other men seated around them. He placed the palm of his hand against Mehmet’s forehead, making his friend whirl around, startled.
“You’re running a temperature. Are you sick?”
“It’s hot in here, that’s all.”
“Not that hot.”
Hastily, Leo placed the back of his hand against Mehmet’s cheek. Just as he’d suspected. His friend wasn’t well.
“Is it the shoulder? You’d tell if there was a change, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course. Stop fussing. Doing dishes can hardly be described as hard labor. I can do it.”
“I’m not so sure. Please, take a few days off or – just quit. You’ll find something else later. And I make enough -”
“Leo, you know that’s not true. We need my earnings too. That’s why I’ve been thinking you might try to get me some work for the cleaners. Talk to your employers and -”
“Yes, when you’re better. I knew it was too soon for you to go back to work.”
“I said, stop fussing. I’m fine. You’re exaggerating. Finish your breakfast and let’s go.”
Leo wasn’t convinced, but didn’t see any way of keeping Mehmet in bed all day, without getting into an argument, which would attract attention and – So he just drank the strong coffee and forced down the last pieces of the unappetizing bread.
He noted that Mehmet hadn’t finished his own breakfast. Making sure no one was looking in his direction, Leo grabbed Mehmet’s piece of bread and stuffed it into his pocket. It would get dry, but they might be able to soak it in water. With what little they could afford to eat, they just couldn’t throw anything away.
All day, and well into the night, Leo found it hard to focus on his work. His thoughts kept returning to Mehmet. It had to be the shoulder. He’d put too much strain on it too soon. Tonight, Leo would try to reason with Mehmet. They couldn’t afford to go and see a doctor but if he worked longer hours, Mehmet could take some time off. Hopefully that would be enough.
Leo knew he’d lost weight and he had noticed that so had Mehmet. It must have started even before they’d been forced to leave Turkey. At the moment that didn’t seem to be their highest priority. He’d just have to make sure Mehmet got better, then they’d worry about getting better jobs, if that was even possible here.
This time, as Leo was tiptoeing towards his bed, he didn’t lie down right away. He sat down on Mehmet’s bed and bent over his friend.
He put a hand on his friend’s shoulder and shook it lightly. No reaction. Leo ignored the chill that went down his spine.
“Listen, you can’t go to work tomorrow. Stay here and get some rest. I’m sure the infection will -”
“I thought I told you -”
“I know. Just do it anyway. Please.”
“Leo, it’s kind of you to -”
“No. You know we can’t afford a doctor so you’d better get well on your own. No more working until you’re better. Ok?”
No reply. It was infuriating.
“Ok. Fine. Just for a day.”
“No, at least a week. I’ll try to get some more work for me. We’ll manage.”
“Whatever you say. Now can I get some sleep?”
“Sure. As long as we agree on that? No more work for you until you’re better.”
“I said so, didn’t I?”
Leo stretched out on his bed, with a feeling that had been a little too easy. If Mehmet really meant to stay in for a few days, it had to mean he was sicker than Leo had guessed. What if – but he was too tired to lie awake worrying. Mehmet would get better. He had to.
Mehmet really did stay away from work, which reassured Leo considerably. If he just got some rest, he had to get better soon.
But Mehmet didn’t get better. Leo was hoping he wasn’t any worse, but there definitely was no sign of improvement. Another worry was the fact that he really couldn’t afford to stay away from work to look after his friend. He had to hope that Mehmet would eat and drink whatever he left for him, including the water he got in the kitchen, when the boss wasn’t looking.
The longer hours brought Leo close to breaking point. He hardly got any sleep anymore and with all that hard work, he still couldn’t afford to get medication for Mehmet, just barely enough food for both of them. Leo began to skip his other meal, just so he could afford better food for Mehmet. But Mehmet didn’t have any appetite and the fever didn’t break.
At the end of the week, Mehmet showed no signs of improvement. Close to panic by now, Leo began to consider his options. He could return to that street and look for other tricks. That paid much better, on an hourly basis, than any other work he could get.
He still had his gun. If he – but there he broke off, terrified of where his thoughts had wandered. Was he seriously considering committing a crime? Robbing a bank? Robbing someone else? The thought left him cold all over. No. Not that. If he had to, he’d turn tricks again, but he wouldn’t pull a gun on anyone for gain. He wasn’t a criminal. No matter what happened, he’d never stoop so low.
At last, his mind shut down. He dozed off, but woke after what seemed like minutes. The dormitory was more or less empty. Only Mehmet was still in bed. All the others must have left already. He’d be late for work.
Hastily he got out of bed, then checked on Mehmet. There wasn’t any change. His friend’s skin felt clammy and warm to the touch, but at least he was sleeping soundly. Sooner or later the fever would have to break and then –
Now he really had to go. There was no time to have breakfast so he just went into the washroom. The communal showers terrified him, but at the moment, he seemed to be alone in there. He decided against taking a shower, though he probably needed one. Instead he went to one of the wash basins on the opposite wall.
He gripped the basin hard, suddenly feeling dizzy. The light in the room felt wrong somehow. It got in his eyes and –
What was he doing lying on the floor? He didn’t even know he’d – Leo gingerly moved his head. A wave of nausea made him freeze. There was a salty taste on his lips and he touched the sticky substance, then squinted at his own fingers. Blood. Had he hit himself somewhere or – No, the blood seemed to come from his nose. Just a nosebleed then. Nothing too serious.
But he couldn’t lie here all day. If he didn’t hurry, he’d lose his job and that would really mean trouble. He tried to get up and eventually he managed to sit upright. He was still dizzy and the room seemed to move around him, but he sat still, focusing on making the movement stop. After a while, he felt a little better. He made another attempt to get up. This time, he managed to hold on to the wash basin straight ahead.
His legs felt a bit wobbly, but to his relief, he found that he was able to walk. Without thinking, he’d headed back to the dormitory. When had he made the decision to return here? He was going to work, not back to bed. But here he was, stretched out on his bed again. What time was it? He began to panic. If he lost his job –
The sound of voices coming from the doorway distracted him. Something about those voices was familiar. It was a while before he realized that they were speaking in German. First English, then German. He tried to get off the bed. If that was the police – someone looking for Mehmet and – They had to get away from here.
Too late. Two men appeared in the doorway. One of them seemed to be talking to someone else, in – Russian. So the manager still knew Russian. Of course. He was old enough to have learned that in the days of the old Yugoslavia.
It took Leo another while to realize that there really was something familiar about the men. He’d seen them before. The realization didn’t bring him any comfort. Not the police. His father’s men. But he didn’t have enough energy to worry too much about that. Resigning himself to his fate, he waited for them to get closer.
“Herr Falckenstein? We have come to take you home.”
The one who had spoken – Franz? – looked puzzled about something. Leo frowned, then remembered the nosebleed.
“Herr Falckenstein? Are you injured?”
“It’s just my nose. Nothing to worry about.”
“I see. Please, we have a car outside. We’ll take you to -”
“Is my father here?”
“He’s on his way. Heinrich will call him and -”
“My friend -”
Leo pointed at Mehmet who was still asleep. Was there something unnatural about that sleep?
Franz glanced at Mehmet and nodded.
“Yes, your father mentioned that your – friend – would be here.”
Leo noted the odd pause in Franz’s statement, but was too tired to wonder what it implied. In any case, Franz bent over him and helped him up.
“Can you walk on your own?”
“Of course I can. But you’ll have to help Mehmet. He’s been injured and he’s running a temperature. An infection -”
“I see. Very well.”
The two men bent over Mehmet and lifted him out of the bed.
Leo hastily rifled the boxes for their personal belongings and found the bundles containing their guns and ammunition. What little he’d managed to save out of his wages was in his pocket. Not that it would matter now. Clearly his father hadn’t been able to accept that his son was beyond his reach. That bothered him, but at the moment, Leo couldn’t worry about that. His father wasn’t in Dubrovnik yet. There was still time to think of a way out.
He sat down in the backseat of the car Franz had mentioned, and let his father’s employees place Mehmet’s head on his lap. Leo could see Heinrich watching them in the rearview mirror, but he couldn’t focus on that either.
Some time later, he was checking in to a hotel. He didn’t know how Franz and Heinrich explained Mehmet’s condition to the hotel staff, or for that matter the blood on his own face, but clearly they managed it somehow. A few minutes later, they were in the elevator going up to their floor.
Leo dully accepted being steered in this direction or that. He was too exhausted to worry much beyond getting to bed, without having to worry about getting up right away. Presumably, they’d be fed too.
“My friend needs a doctor.”
“I will send for one at once. Get some rest, herr Falckenstein. There’s no need for you to concern yourself about anything. Your father will take care of everything.”
That was exactly what worried Leo, but again, the thought slipped away from him.
“Yes. I see. Right.”
By now, Mehmet was awake and watching Leo with eyes shiny from the fever.
“Are you ok? There’s some -”
“A nosebleed, that’s all. I – passed out and – it’s probably nothing.”
“You’ve been working too hard, you idiot. And not eating enough. But what are we doing here? What happened?”
“Oh. My father found us.”
“Don’t worry about it. Let him foot the bill. I got one of his men to send for a doctor. At least we’ll both get medical attention. Food too, I’m guessing. So let’s just make the most of it, ok?”
“Are you -”
“I’ll see what he has to say.”
Mehmet looked as if he had more to say, but it seemed the conversation had tired him out and he leaned back against the pillows.
Leo too, closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift away. What else could he do? His father had found him and at the moment, there was nothing he could do. He might as well get some sleep.
A knock on the door made him stare wildly around the room. It was just room service. He’d had a dream about his father. But – it was just a dream, nothing more and his father still wasn’t here, so everything was ok. Nothing to worry about.
He didn’t have much appetite, but forced himself to have a little anyway and he made sure Mehmet had some as well. Before they’d finished their lunch, the doctor arrived.
He was a rather short, stocky man, with thick, hairy hands, but seemed capable enough and spoke quite good English. He seemed to be under the impression Leo had been on vacation.
Anemia and exhaustion was Leo’s diagnosis. After a thorough examination of the shoulder, Mehmet was given a shot of antibiotics and told to get some rest.
Before he left, the doctor encouraged Leo to have some bloodwork done when he returned home.
Despite everything, Leo was relieved. Seeing his father again was the last thing he wanted, but at least Mehmet was going to be ok.
He was back in his father’s house. Had he ever left? His mother – but that was earlier, many years ago. He was almost grown up. Fifteen – He didn’t know exactly how he could be so sure of that, but he was. Glancing around the room, he wondered why he felt an odd sense of foreboding. There were posters of music groups on the walls. On one, Madonna was lying sprawled in a very arousing way and –
An expensive music machine took up most of one of the walls and on his desk – But there was something else – Something about the room that bothered him. He couldn’t see why. All his books and magazines and other possessions were familiar and reassuring or should have been.
The house was quiet and the curtains were rolled down, covering the windows. It must be late at night. He’d woken up but there was no reason why he shouldn’t be able to go back to sleep.
As if he’d already heard the noise for some time, he now became aware of the sounds of footsteps approaching his room. Suddenly, he was filled with dread, not knowing why.
The door opened a crack and the light from the hallway outside fell on the carpet. A man was standing there, the light at his back, making his shadow fall across the floor, reaching all the way to the bed.
Leo’s breath caught in his throat. The palms of his hands felt damp and his heart began to beat unnaturally fast.
Someone was saying his name in a voice that was familiar but anything but reassuring. His throat went dry and he couldn’t have replied even if his life depended on it.
“Are you awake, son?”
He tried to hold his breath, freezing, hoping against hope that the visitor would leave again, believing him asleep.
But as he had known all along, his father didn’t falter. He crossed the floor and sat down at the side of his bed.
He swallowed, in an attempt to clear his throat. If he thought of some reason he needed to go – to the bathroom or to the kitchen or – But it was no use. No excuse would work. A strange feeling of disassociation filled him. It was as if he wasn’t really there, after all, as if he was hovering somewhere in the background, watching instead of reliving this too familiar scene from his childhood.
In any event, no reply was required. His father leaned over him and though Leo kept his eyes firmly shut, he felt fingers touch his hair and face. Lingering. He heard his father’s breathing pick up and tensed up painfully.
“My boy. You are so lovely. Just like her. Let me look at you.”
The old man’s voice was was thick, sentimental, making Leo choke. It wasn’t true. He wasn’t that much like his mother. No one who saw him with his father could doubt they shared the same blood.
By now the fingers had moved further down, resting on his chest, then continuing their inexorable path down his belly and –
He drew in breath and suddenly, regained the use of his voice. The scream echoed loudly in his ears, recalling him to reality.
Shamefacedly, he glanced over to the next bed, where his friend’s gaze met his, anxiously studying his face.
“I’m sorry to wake you. Go back to sleep. If he hasn’t arrived yet -”
“I haven’t heard anything since the doctor was here. But Leo – this is exactly what I was afraid of. You can’t wait for him to arrive. We have to go -”
“No, Mehmet. We can’t risk it. Your health -”
“Screw my health. I’m fine now. The doctor gave me a shot of antibiotics, remember? I’ll be fine. If we leave now -”
“No. Don’t worry about me. I can handle the old man. I don’t want to, but I’m not afraid of him anymore.”
Again he felt Mehmet’s disconcerting stare bore into him, as if undressing him, this time mentally.
“It’s ok. Really. Let him pay. When he gets here, I’ll talk to him and explain what happened – Well, about what Jan and Helmut did anyway.”
“I think he probably knows already. What’s worrying me, is why he went to all these lengths to get you back.”
“I don’t know. Guilt? In any case, he won’t – it’s not like before. This time, I’m not a kid. There’s nothing he can do to me.”
But deep down, Leo wasn’t nearly as sure of himself as he tried to make Mehmet believe. It seemed unbelievable that his father found it so hard to let go, but having gone to all these lenghts, as Mehmet had put it, didn’t it stand to reason that he wanted something in return?
Leo was too exhausted to worry about it now, and besides, he knew his mind shied away from what the reason could be. He’d make sure Mehmet was safe. If his friend could return home and get his job back, then whatever it took, it would be worth it.
Mehmet didn’t seem convinced, but he nodded pensively.
“Ok. But just say the word and we’ll give them the slip. We’ll find somewhere else to go. If we lie low for a while -”
“Yes. I appreciate it, Mehmet. Really. You’ve been -”
Embarrassed, Leo looked away. He couldn’t let Mehmet get his hopes up. On the other hand, if he was now heading straight back to his father’s house and whatever it was the old man had in mind, there was no reason why he shouldn’t give Mehmet what he so clearly desired. Maybe he should – but Leo couldn’t bring himself to do it. The reasons he had for liking Mehmet wouldn’t survive any change in their relationship status. He wanted Mehmet to be his friend, his brother, not his lover.
Reluctantly, Mehmet lay back, trying to get to sleep again. He’d keep his eyes open. If they had to, if an opportunity came – One thing was certain, he wasn’t going to sit back and let Leo suffer again, not for any reason.
A knock on the door woke them.
Leo braced himself to face his father, but the visitor turned out to be Franz.
“Herr Falckenstein. Herr Kilic. Herr Falckenstein – senior – is waiting downstairs. He asks that you join him for breakfast.”
Leo nodded. No use putting off the inevitable. At least his first meeting with his father would be in public. But the minute he walked into the room Franz led him to, he realized that his father had requested a private room.
His father hadn’t changed in the nearly eight months since Leo had last seen him. He hadn’t expected him to. In his memories, the old man always looked the same.
When they entered, his father rose and took a few steps in their direction. Leo froze, then forced himself to move forward. It was nonsense. Even in this room, a waiter, Franz, Heinrich and Mehmet were present. There was nothing his father could do to him here.
As always, his father’s face lit up when he caught sight of his son. Automatically, Leo’s own smile fell into place.
“I hope you’re feeling better after a full night’s sleep.”
“Yes, thank you.”
How could he disappoint his father now, when Mehmet’s health depended on him, when his own did?
His father gestured for him to take a seat at the same table he’d been seated at, when Leo walked in.
The waiter began to serve breakfast, then withdrew. Franz and Heinrich sat down at another table some distance away. It seemed they’d already had their breakfast, and were now having what Leo assumed was coffee.
To Leo’s surprise, his father now addressed Mehmet.
“Herr Kilic. I hope your injury is troubling you less now.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you.”
“No, thank you. I know what you did for my boy and – I can’t stress enough how grateful I am.”
Mehmet felt uneasy. It was hard to imagine this man doing business with Russian organized crime or – even more so – molesting his own son. This man looked like any other well-to-do business man. Smooth, easy-going, polite.
“Well – I couldn’t let him -”
“Exactly. You saw a colleague in trouble and you acted. I have taken action to ensure that there won’t be any repercussions connected with – What I mean to say is that you shouldn’t meet with any difficulties if you wish to return to work.”
Mehmet stared at Leo’s father. What he was saying was – a dream come true. But he couldn’t help wondering what the price would be. If his reinstatement would be at Leo’s expense, he knew he couldn’t accept the offer.
But it seemed the older herr Falckenstein took his reply for granted. He went on without pause.
“Leo – I was appalled to hear under what circumstances you have lived in the past few months. If there’s anything you need – either of you – don’t hesitate to ask. I will make sure -”
“Erm – I was wondering -”
“You were wondering if you’ll be returning home?”
“Yes, well – after what happened -”
“Believe me, those two men will pay for what they did to you, son.”
Leo recoiled violently. If his father had had his Russian contacts somehow punish Jan or Helmut, he wouldn’t –
The expression on his face must have told his father something, because the old man went on, trying to sound reassuring.
“I have made sure they will answer for their actions in court.”
Court. The thought worried Leo almost as much as his original guess. If the attack was perused by a court – then his own actions would be brought to light and how could he explain what he’d apparently done? He still didn’t have any memories of all that. His mind kept shying away from the thoughts of what Mehmet had told him and he still hadn’t been able dwell on them for long.
Again, it was as if his father wasn’t expecting a reply. He went on speaking, but Leo wasn’t listening anymore. No. This was simply too –
Unresistingly, he accepted being given new clothes, a new passport, new identity papers. When he was led into a cab, then through the airport on the way to catch their flight back home, Leo was only half aware of his surroundings.
He wasn’t going to cooperate with the authorities. He couldn’t. Besides, he didn’t remember much more about the attack than about – the reason for it. He had just taken Mehmet’s word for it. He was wondering how much his father knew about that. If his father thought he was gay – But again, Leo’s mind shied away from the disturbing thoughts and he sank into a state of apathy.
He was aware of Mehmet’s presence somewhere in the background and he appreciated it, but at the moment he was too caught up in his brooding to pay much attention.
Sooner or later he would be forced to see his father alone. Despite his reassurances to Mehmet, he dreaded the meeting. And the time came sooner, much sooner, than he would have liked.
To his relief, his father hadn’t insisted on taking him back to his own home. Instead, he set Leo and Mehmet up in a hotel. He would have paid for two separate suites if Leo hadn’t vetoed that. In the end, he accepted a very spacious and comfortable room on the same floor as Mehmet. At the moment, he had no thoughts for his own place. After all this time, it would most likely be lost to him anyway.
He was about to retire for the night, when his father requested to speak to him alone.
At first, he wasn’t sure he’d heard his father’s question correctly.
“Excuse me -”
“I said if you’re not too tired, I was wondering if I might speak to you for a moment.”
The silence stretched on for too long. Leo’s mind raced, trying to think of an excuse to put off the moment a little longer at least. He couldn’t be sure, but this might be the time when his father called in his debt. But as always, he found himself able to perform his part to satisfaction. The good son. The attentive partner. The considerate lover. The generous benefactor.
“Yes. Of course.”
“Thank you. Shall we?”
Instinctively, Leo recoiled from the thought of letting his father into his own room, but he knew he had no choice. For Mehmet he could do it, he told himself, but even so, there was a part of him that could think only of escape. Out through a window, if necessary, as long as he got as far away as possible from his father.
They didn’t have far to go. Mehmet had retired to his room, obviously believing the older herr Falckenstein on his way home for the night.
Leo unlocked the door and gestured for his father to come inside. At the moment, he didn’t trust his voice.
His hand shook so badly he was surprised he’d been able to turn the key in the lock, but somehow he managed it.
For a moment neither man said anything. They found seats, facing each other, in silence, until the quiet in the room became too much for Leo and he began to speak too rapidly. He forced himself to slow down.
“Well – this – room is fine.”
“Thank you. Leo – I wanted to -”
Incredibly, his father seemed at a loss for words too. Leo wondered what exactly his father was trying to say. Though again, the silence hang awkwardly between them, far too soon, his father began to speak.
“Youre boss and your – partner -”
“I remember almost nothing, so if you want to know exactly what happened, I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
His father studied him oddly, then seemed to make an effort to push on.
“Yes. I – quite see that. Do you remember anything of their reasons for -”
So that was it. The old bastard was trying to find out if there was any truth to the accusation Jan had made. Of course. And if he was forced to admit he was gay – would his father consider that excuse enough to – once again -?
“No. I don’t remember any of what happened before I woke up on my way to Turkey.”
His father seemed to be struggling with something, then appeared to get past the hesitation and force the words out.
“Haroska claims – he says he saw you with another man outside a night club.”
Again, Leo forced himself on, through sheer willpower.
“Yes, Mehmet told me they were saying something like that, but as I told you, I don’t remember anything.”
What did the old bastard expect from him? A confession? Yes, dad, I’m gay and I miss our cozy little nights together? Suddenly, Leo’s anger made it easy for him to speak out.
“I do, however, have a guess about what might have caused the amnesia. I’m sure you can guess too, if you try. Unless you too are suffering from amnesia.”
Leo didn’t pay attention to the changed voice or his father’s expression. He had kept quiet for too long, now he was going to have his say, whether his father liked it or not.
“I think it might have something to do with what you did to me. Don’t you, dad?”
His father’s face paled and it seemed as if the old man slumped down in his chair. For another awkward pause, no one said anything. Then, his father looked up, a grim look of determination on his face.
“I – remember. Leo, I know I can’t expect you to forgive me but – at least believe me when I say that – I’ve wanted to go back and change that, more than anything. I’m truly sorry. It’s no excuse, but – in those days – I was – I must have been half insane with grief, after your mother – But like I said, it’s no excuse. You’re right to hate me.”
This Leo hadn’t expected. Taken aback, it was a while until he recovered. But he was determined to have his say. If the old man really regretted his actions – how could have done what he did in the first place?
“Why did you think I – my stepmother and I -”
This didn’t seem to perturb his father much.
“Yes, I – rather guessed as much at the time. Forget it. It is of no consequence.”
“And to answer your other question – I – Mehmet told me he’d seen me too. So, clearly I was – with those men, but I don’t have any recollection of what we did. I’m not – I’m into women. Until – all this happened – I had no idea I -”
A spasm passed over his father’s face. The look in his eyes spoke of pain, but it made no impression on Leo. His father’s face had twitched, exactly like that when –
Suddenly, bile rose in Leo’s throat and he rushed into the bathroom and emptied his stomach. To his relief, his father didn’t try to follow him in there. When the nausea had passed, he splashed water on his face and returned to his father.
“Leo – I want you to know that if – I’m willing to face the consequences of my actions. If this – if your actions with those men come out – and I can see that it’s inevitable. It will be a part of Haroska’s and Enders’ defence. But when they use that in court, I’m willing to confess to what I did to you. They will have experts who can explain -”
Leo felt drained. This confrontation hadn’t made him feel any better. Nothing had changed. Sure, this time his father acknowledged what he’d done and seemed contrite, but – that didn’t change anything.
“I can’t think about that right now. Please – leave me alone. I need -”
His father rose and backed away, a conciliatory, sympathetic look on his face, but Leo had seen him sentimental and emotional before. The sight filled him with revulsion and terror.
“Of course, son. I understand. Get as much rest as you need. I will send the attorney to see you tomorrow, if you feel up to it.”
When the door had closed behind his father, Leo stretched out on the bed, too exhausted to appreciate the comforts of this room, compared to the others where he’d spent too many nights since his escape. Eventually, his mind seemed to shut down again and for a while there was peace.
Leo tried to pay attention to what the attorney was saying. He hadn’t wanted to meet this man and definitely not share any details of the ordeal he’d been through at the hands of his former boss and partner, but he’d been caught up in events, and here he was anyway.
The attorney sat down facing him across the table. To begin with Leo had been relieved he hadn’t been expected to answer any questions, but as he listened to what the efficient guy in the suit was saying, he became aware of an incipient discomfort, even the first stages of panic. This man – Leo hadn’t managed to catch his name – seemed to know pretty much everything. At least it matched what Mehmet had told him.
“So, herr Falckenstein – can you add or detract anything from this statement?”
Leo stared at him, as if uncomprehendingly. The attorney pushed a sheet of paper towards him.
“There. If you’d care to read it through and tell me -”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember anything. Didn’t – weren’t you told about that?”
“Yes. And the doctor who examined you confirms that amnesia is consistent with the injuries you suffered – as corroborated by several independent witnesses.”
“Well, then -”
“What exactly do you remember?”
“I – remember Jan – Haroska – my partner – my former partner – asking me to come down to the basement with him. And – being attacked, but no details of the attack. Then – waking up on the way to Turkey. Mehmet – Kilic – my colleague – told me what had happened.”
“And that’s all?”
“Yes. I remember being injured. In pain. I can tell you about the injuries, but you must have heard about those from others.”
“Ah, yes. Contusions, crushed nose, lips – and – I believe – forgive me for mentioning it – a nightstick -”
“Yes, yes. That’s right. A doctor in Turkey saw to all that.”
“I see. Had you – had you had any idea your former partner Jan Haroska might be homophobic?”
Leo considered. To be perfectly honest, he had suspected as much. Jan had always had a tendency to speak derogatorily about minority groups – homosexuals, immigrants, women.
“Well, I wasn’t surprised.”
The attorney seemed to hesitate.
“Can you – Haroska claims to have seen you – forgive me – herr Falckenstein – having intimate relations with a man outside a nightclub.”
“Yes, I – heard that too. Mehmet heard them shouting about that when he found me. At least that’s what he told me. But I’m afraid I have no recollection of any of that. As far as I knew, until the attack, I’ve always been heterosexual. It surprised and shocked me, to tell the truth. Especially that I might have done something like that and not remember.”
The attorney toyed with his pen, then looked up, as if a new idea had struck him.
“That does seem to indicate that either Haroska was mistaken – or he used the alleged scene outside the nightclub as an excuse to take out his anger on you, for some other reason. Does that seem likely to you?”
“I don’t know. I really have no idea.”
“We could certainly assert as much in court. Haroska is an older man. How good is his eyesight, especially at night?”
“Pretty good, I thought, but of course I can’t be sure.”
“He might even have been mistaken. The man he saw might simply be someone with a passing resemblance.”
Leo shrugged. Somehow, he didn’t think so. After all, he knew that according to Mehmet, they had had sex on several occasions. But he definitely wasn’t going to tell this man that. At least not unless he was asked a direct question.
“However – your father – suggested a reason for – this amnesia.”
Leo started. That simply couldn’t be right. Leo couldn’t imagine that his father had confessed about what he’d done, to an attorney. Surely the old man didn’t believe that he would press charges against him for the abuse? Leo couldn’t even remember, offhand, what statute of limitations there was for sexual assault of a minor. It must have been at least sixteen years since that last time it happened.
“I – see.”
“If – you wish to, you could use that to explain your amnesia.”
“I’m not sure I know where you’re going with this. Certainly I wouldn’t be happy to have the whole world know that I – might have – had sex with other men – but that’s not a crime. I didn’t do anything wrong, if I did anything. But – if my father told you what happened -”
The attorney looked pained. So that was it. The old man had had cold feet and confessed. Leo couldn’t believe it. In a way, it was satisfying to have closure of a kind, but he was far from sure that he wished all that dragged up again, in court. Having it become public knowledge a would be even worse than being forced to admit to being bisexual, even if he wasn’t. Like he’d just said, bisexuality wasn’t a crime. Embarrassing as it would be, there was no reason for him to defend himself against such an accusation.
But there was no denying it felt humiliating to have to own up to doing something he never would have done of his own free will.
“Ah, yes. He did.”
“No. I don’t want all that dragged up again. I can’t explain why – if – I had sex with this man – but even being forced to admit to that – which I can’t – having no memory of the incident – would be better than telling the world about what happened when I was a teenager. So, the answer is no. Leave that alone.”
“Very well. Then I’ll go with the other option. Discrediting Haroska. I’ll find out about his eyesight and other issues concerning his health. I’ve been told he recently had an affair with a much younger woman. The affair must have been about to end as he -”
That was news to Leo, but he wasn’t surprised. Maria was so much younger than Haroska, it was ridiculous to imagine those two a couple.
“Yes, that’s true, at least that Jan had an affair with Maria Hernandez.”
“And your former partner has had a drinking problem. If he had started drinking again -”
“I suppose that’s possible.”
“Right. I’ll work with what I have. I would really like to suggest you see a psychiatrist about that amnesia.”
“Perhaps I will.”
“Speaking of amnesia. It did occur to me that if herr Haroska’s claim were to be true, after all – is it not possible that you were the victim of a violent crime? A robbery? Or – sexual assault?”
That hadn’t occurred to Leo before. A robbery? In a way, that might be less traumatic to imagine. Sexual assault? Well, it had happened before and after. Apparently, there was something about him that sexual predators found – appealing.
“I suppose so. It never occurred to me before, but – I suppose it’s possible.”
The attorney nodded, as if pleased to have come up with an alternate explanation.
“Herr Falckenstein – I will do my best to get you your job back – in fact – there has never been any suggestion you didn’t do your work to satisfaction so your employers have no cause for termination of your employment. I will also try to secure damages. If you like, I will also attempt to make your employers pay for your therapy. After that assault -”
“I see. Well, I appreciate that, but I’m not sure I can handle appearing in court, in such a -”
“Herr Falckenstein – what they did to you – surely they deserve to be punished for that? Would you really feel comfortable having men like that working as police officers here, in the city?”
There was that, of course. But whether or not Leo considered Enders or Haroska fit to work as police officers, he simply felt overwhelmed by the thought of facing a room full of people, who would find out everything that had happened to him.
“I’ll – do my best.”
“Excellent. You will contact me, won’t you, if you recall any other details. Anything at all, which you feel might be of use. And – if you need help in any way – don’t hesitate to call me.”
“I’ll bear that in mind. Thank you.”
At last he was alone again. Everything that had happened since that day when Jan had asked him to come with him had been one shock after another. He wasn’t sure if his father admitting what he’d done wasn’t the most astonishing event of all. And now he’d more or less agreed to appear in court. To face Enders and Haroska again. Not to mention his other colleagues.
A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts and he got up to find out who it was.
“Leo? It’s me. Mehmet.”
“Hey, you shouldn’t be up.”
“I’m fine. Are you going to let me in?”
Mehmet did look much better, Leo had to admit that. His color was better and his entire posture suggested the shoulder didn’t bother him anymore.
“Did you get in touch with your family?”
Mehmet’s face fell.
His tone didn’t encourage any further questioning, but Leo felt he had to know.
“It was – I don’t know. On the one hand, my father was furious with me for shaming him before Elif’s family. But apparently, she had been seeing another man all this time so – I don’t know. Their attack on me – while that was within their rights after I abandoned Elif – but it seemed to have angered my father too. Of course he was more angry with me, than them. We’ll see. If I could pay them compensation – if my family could – then maybe this would go away.”
“Is she alright? Your wife, I mean.”
“My soon-to-be ex-wife. Of course. Oh, I see what you mean. I hope so. Her future husband’s family will have to protect her.”
“Please don’t be offended, but isn’t that really – primitive – sort of Old Testament -”
Leo broke off, hoping he hadn’t offended his friend. Comparing Muslim traditions with the Old Testament – A Judeo/Christian scripture – might be extremely offensive even to someone as secularized as Mehmet.
“Yes. It must be hard to understand for you, but – it’s just something we have to live with. Like – your people will have to live with your Nazi past.”
“I didn’t mean to -”
“Never mind. The past is the past. But you think you’re going to be ok? With your family, I mean?”
“They’re not going to have me killed, if that’s what you mean.”
“I hope not. Oh, since dad’s in a spending mood, I could probably get him to give you enough to pay your wife’s family off.”
“I – appreciate that, but – we’ll try to manage on our own, for now. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the offer, but after – what your father put you through – I don’t even feel comfortable owing him for the trip back and the doctor’s fees.”
“Forget that. He’s the one who had to have me back.”
“Don’t worry about it. He won’t lay a hand on me now. In fact – he – I confronted him about – that – and he – apologized.”
“As if -”
“Exactly. But still, I never even expected him to admit it. He seemed contrite.”
“And now he’s willing to go public with what he did, if it helps explain my amnesia.”
“Are you serious? What are you going to do?”
“Well, for one, dad has worked hard to get Enders and Jan tried for what they did to me.”
“So there will be a trial?”
“I – I’m not sure. If I feel up to it -”
“That’s good. You can’t let them get away with it.”
“Yeah, but on the other hand, what Jan saw will have to come out.”
“Of course, but – that was no excuse for what they did.”
“No, but – either way, it doesn’t feel very pleasant. I told the attorney I didn’t remember, which is true, but I didn’t tell him that you and I – I still don’t remember that either, but of course I believe you.”
Mehmet appeared uncomfortable. He seemed about to say something, but found it hard to begin. In the end, he forced himself to go on.
“About that – Leo – I – I’ve had time to think and – I might have been mistaken. Or – it might just be over. My – uh – infatuation with you. I – definitely like you a lot, but – I don’t really -”
Slowly, a smile spread across Leo’s face. That was pretty much exactly what he had wanted to hear. He was hoping Mehmet wasn’t making it up to make him feel more comfortable about – everything –
“Right. Anyway – I hope you’ll consider cooperating with that attorney. Haroska and Enders deserve to be punished for what they did to you. Whatever reason they felt they had.”
“Yes, of course. I agree. It’s just – going to be grim facing everyone. Can you imagine having the whole world know what you’ve done? When you don’t even know yourself?”
“I – yes. I think I can imagine.”
“Remember how they treated poor Kristin?”
“Exactly. But it’s – completely dated. That old Prussian spirit.”
“Prussian? Yeah, I guess. Not that those old guys were completely straight. At least that’s not what I read.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I run into prejudice now and again too. Some even resent the fact that I have tried to – adapt and assimilate. Because that’s what I’ve done. I felt that – if we were going to live here, I might as well fit in. But to some people, I never will.”
“I’m sorry about that. It’s the same with Jewish people.”
“And gays, I know. I suppose – it’s ironic, isn’t it? I’m probably more ‘gay’ than you are, and I don’t even feel very gay. I’m into women, just like you.”
“Yeah, well, be glad no one knows about – your secret. Let’s hope it stays that way, considering the amount of prejudice going around. In a way, it’s probably been a good lesson to me. It will make me more understanding of the situation minority groups face. ”
“How can you say so? You make it sound as if it served you right.”
“That’s not what I meant. Besides, I belong to another unenviable minority. Adult victims of childhood sexual abuse. The attorney suggested that I see a shrink.”
“That might be a good idea. Will you do it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. So, how about it? Let’s go out tonight and have a couple of drinks. For once, I’d just like to feel like any other guy. We’ll pick up a couple of girls and -”
Mehmet grinned. At least Leo still had his sense of humor.
“Do you think that’s such a good idea?”
“What? Getting drunk? Or picking up girls?
“The latter. It wouldn’t look good for my divorce.”
“Isn’t it enough that she was seeing someone else?”
“Probably. I just don’t feel up to dating right now. Even though it’s been ages since -”
“I know. I’m sorry about that.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“Well, at least you’re back. In the land of the freely available women. She’s out there somewhere, I know she is.”
“Your dream girl and mine too. We just have to find them. Then we’ll doubledate.”
“Good idea. But tonight – I’d love to have a drink or two.”
“You’re sure you can combine alcohol with your medication?”
“Damn. Maybe I should just pick up a woman instead. Less side effects. Unless -”
“How about we just have lunch together? Up here. Or if you prefer we could go to this place I -”
“Ok, lunch it is. But I know of this great little Turkish place. If you’d like -”
“Sure. Let’s go there. I kind of miss Turkey. I’ll have to go back some day. On vacation.”
“I’ll go with you and be your guide.”
“And interpreter. I never managed to learn anything beyond the most basic phrases.”
“It’s not too late. I’ll help you.”
“Thanks. Later. My head felt as if it was about to burst from all your grammar.”
“I know the feeling. German isn’t that easy either.”
“Right. So – I’m glad you’re making up with your family.”
“Me too. I only wish you could -”
“Never mind. It was always too late for that, so I never hoped for that anyway. And now I have -”
Leo broke off, embarrassed. He’d been about to say – Oh, what the heck. Mehmet had just said he didn’t fancy him anymore.
“You. You’re my best friend.”
Mehmet felt touched. He began to relax again.
Leo got up and hastily put his arms around Mehmet, then pulled back, worried about what he might have set off. But Mehmet just grinned widely.
“And you’re mine.”
That had been painless. Mehmet was a little surprised to realize that the attraction really was gone. All he felt was affection. Which made a whole lot more sense, if he thought about it. Maybe that whole confusing period in his life was to do with his marriage. Guilt and conflicting emotions and – physical needs – all jumbled up. At least that was out of the way now.
The trial went better than Leo had expected. He was asked to take the stand and testify that he had no memories of the incident Haroska claimed to have witnessed. When asked about it, he replied that he found it highly unlikely that he’d been involved in sexual relations with a man, since he’d never felt any attraction for a man, at least to his knowledge. After admitting to the amnesia and having had that confirmed by medical experts, he had a feeling that impressed the jury.
Other evidence about Haroska’s drinking problems and his eyesight, which while good for a man of that age, certainly couldn’t be said to be good enough to identify a man standing some distance away late at night – didn’t speak for Haroska either.
Even so, it was incredibly painful to hear the assault being described in detail. Despite everything, it hurt tremendously that Leo’s partner – a man he would have trusted with his life – could treat him the way he had. Regardless of the verdict, Leo felt crushed by all the events leading up to the moment his father’s men had found him in that shelter for transient workers.
He listened to his colleagues giving evidence with a feeling of unreality. If he’d needed proof that Sylvia had never truly cared about him, he had it now. He could easily read between the lines of her statement, that she’d been invigorated by watching him being assaulted – tortured – as the DA put it.
Then there was Kristin – he was shocked to realize that Jan had actually threatened her too. He was hardly surprised that she’d backed down. Her words about her fears for Enes made it clear to him that she had had no choice. He felt no resentment that she’d let him down.
What really shook him up was seeing Jan again. Jan and Helmut. Meeting their eyes across the courtroom, was terrifying. For a second, Leo had an impulse to just get up and run, but he repressed it. Jan stared defiantly at him, but it appeared as if Helmut felt guilty. He wouldn’t meet Leo’s gaze for long and Leo had the impression Helmut regretted following Jan’s lead in this instance, perhaps every occasion he’d let Haroska act as de facto boss.
Jan’s testimony about what had led up to the assault was especially trying to follow. Leo had had hints of what might be coming, from Mehmet and from his own attorney, but hearing Jan’s harsh judgment hurt anyway.
When asked about what he’d seen that night, Jan’s gaze held a challenge, as if he was defying anyone to criticize him for his attitude.
“Yes. I saw herr Falckenstein clearly. He was no further away than you are.”
“And what was he doing?”
“He was kneeling before a man, performing a sexual act.”
Jan spat out the words as if even referring to the act left a foul taste in his mouth.
“And you’re sure that was what he was doing?”
“Of course I’m sure. Are you suggesting I wouldn’t recognize my own partner?”
For a while, Leo drifted away, unable to focus on the trial. He pricked up his ears again, when the DA began to question Jan.
“You mentioned that you saw herr Falckenstein performing a sexual act. My question to you is this: how can you be so sure that was accurate?”
“What do you mean? I saw it.”
“Late at night, in a backyard? Even if you saw herr Falckenstein kneeling, there could be a number of other explanations to why he was in such a position. Did it occur to you that your partner might have been the victim of a crime? He could have been beaten. Robbed. Sexually assaulted. And you did nothing. Then the following day, you and your boss attacked herr Falckenstein.”
“Objection. Herr Waldner is preaching.”
“Herr Waldner. Let the accused answer your question.”
“Of course, Your Honor. Herr Haroska – please answer my question. Can you be one hundred percent sure your partner was in the process of voluntarily engaging in sexual relations?”
That seemed to get to Jan. He paused as if considering. It was clear that he’d never thought along those lines before. But he didn’t seem convinced and in the end, he didn’t waver.
“Yes. I am certain.”
Leo heard the jury whisper among themselves. Even if Jan wasn’t convinced, it seemed the jury might be. He had a feeling this didn’t contribute either to Jan’s credibility or gained him any sympathy.
Leo let his mind wander again. What if it was true? What if he’d been sexually assaulted – again? If his partner had watched him being abused and done nothing? He’d trusted Jan with his life. In many ways, he’d regarded Jan as more of a father to him than his own. The memories of them working together almost made him choke.
When the court reconvened after lunch, he didn’t return. He wouldn’t be questioned until later.
The rest of the trial passed as if in a dream. Suddenly, Leo realized that it was all over. He and Mehmet had been reinstated. They would be given their old jobs back. Jan and Helmut had been sentenced to five and two and a half years respectively. Enders was given the lower sentence because several independent witnesses had testified about his dependence on Haroska.
Hernandez was severely reprimanded, but since she had been in a relationship with Haroska at the time and furthermore had been outranked by both men, she hadn’t been considered capable of acting against their wishes.
Leo couldn’t help thinking that was discrimination, but he bore no grudge against Hernandez. In the past, he had formed a favorable impression of her and had no reason to doubt her dependence on Haroska. Who could expect someone of lower rank to confront two men who outranked her? Or a woman the man she was involved with?
Sylvia Henke, on the other hand, left him cold. He could hardly imagine how he had reasoned when he’d gone to bed with her. In retrospect he felt very little attraction for her. Her testimony had made him nauseous. It was clear that not only had she not cared what happened to him, she had even been aroused by seeing him in such a situation.
That left Kristin. He was conscious that she was plagued by feelings of guilt, so when the trial was over, he wasn’t surprised to find her seeking him out in his hotel room. He wondered who had told her where to find him. Mehmet?
“Leo – if I could speak to you for a moment -”
“Of course. Please.”
She stepped inside, gingerly, as if she was walking on eggshells, avoiding his gaze for as long as she could.
“How is Enes?”
“Oh, he’s – alright.”
“Yes. He – Leo – I – I’m dreadfully sorry I let you down. At the time I – worried about Enes’ safety and -”
“And they threatened you tool, I know. I heard. I’m sorry about that too. I – wasn’t too surprised to find that Jan was – homophobic, but – you know how it is, working together – He had other qualities. At least I thought so.”
“Yes, but – it’s no excuse. Mehmet was able to get you away and – I did nothing.”
Her voice was filled with self-reproach.
“Listen to me, Kristin. I understand. It’s alright. Forget about it. There were two of them and just one of you. And they were your colleagues. Never mind.”
“But – Mehmet -”
“Yes, Mehmet did, but – if he hadn’t – I wouldn’t have blamed him. And you had Enes to worry about.”
Kristin regarded Leo pensively. It took some getting used to, imagining Leo gay. She’d never once suspected that. No, it was far more likely that the DA’s suggestions had been correct. Leo had been the victim of a crime. An odd coincidence, but there it was. Nothing more.
“You’re too kind. I’ll never be able to forgive myself, but – I appreciate your understanding. About Enes -”
“He was wondering if he could come up and talk to you too.”
“Is he here now?”
“Yes, he’s waiting in the car.”
“Of course. Send him up. Mehmet told me I have Enes to thank for – well, more or less everything. If he hadn’t alerted Mehmet to what was going on -”
“I told him to stay away. I should have been the one to -”
“Kristin, that’s enough. Enes is fine. I’m fine. It’s alright. Go and tell Enes he can come up.”
Three minutes later, there was another knock on Leo’s door.
“Enes? Is that you? Come on in.”
“Leo. How are you?”
“I’m fine, as you can see. Actually, Mehmet and I almost ended up in Bosnia, but in the end, we had to stay in Dubrovnik.”
“Dubrovnik? Cool. What were you doing there?”
“Just lying low. Working. Making money.”
“But you were going to Turkey?”
“Yes. We were in Turkey for a while, but then – some people who had a grudge against Mehmet showed up and we felt it was best to go away.”
“Oh. But now you’re back to stay?”
“Yes. Apparently. My – father found us and brought us back. And he set up this trial and everything.”
Leo wondered how much about the case Enes knew, but he didn’t feel up to asking and Enes, tactfully, or simply because he didn’t know, never said anything about it.
Leo wasn’t particularly surprised that Kristin and Enes wanted to see him. However, he’d never expected to hear from Helmut. His request to see Leo in his cell, took Leo completely by surprise. That was the last thing he’d expected. His initial impulse was to refuse. He never wanted to see Jan or Helmut again, as long as he lived.
But when he’d made the decision, he found himself wondering what Helmut wanted. In the end, he sent word that he agreed to come.
When he mentioned that to Mehmet, his friend’s reaction almost made him doubt his claims to be over the infatuation.
“He’s out of his mind. Why should you agree to see him? After what he did to you -”
“Yes, but – I’ve talked to my father. Maybe I should just get it over with. I have to admit that I’m curious.”
“He probably just wants you to justify his betrayal. That’s what they all want. Your father wants you to forgive him so he can forgive himself. Maybe that’s what Helmut wants too. Don’t let him -”
“I can at least find out.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“He won’t be able to touch me there.”
“That’s not the – you are serious, aren’t you?”
“I think so, yes.”
“In that case, I’m coming with you. I’d like to see him too. He threatened me. They both did.”
“Are you sure that’s such a good idea?”
Leo watched Mehmet’s reaction curiously.
“You’re a fine one to be talking.”
“Ok. Fine. Let’s both go. I have a thing or two to say about what they did to Kristin.”
“About threatening her too? Ok. Sure.You see what fine upstanding citizens they are. The kind of people who manned the concentration camps.”
“Take it easy. I see Helmut more as your average Wehrmacht kind of guy. Ours is not to reason why and so on.”
“What about Jan?”
“Hm. A high-ranking officer who claimes to have merely been obeying orders but liked to clear out the ‘vermin’ anyway?”
“You could be right.”
It was as if Mehmet was becoming aware of his own reaction and was trying to play it down.
“Relax. It’s over. There’s nothing to be done about the past. At least we got our jobs back.”
“I know. It’s just – seeing you down there, in that basement. The trial brought it all back. You have no idea -”
“I can imagine. And I would have done the same for you.”
Or for anyone, Mehmet thought. But that was one of the things he liked about Leo. The way he had of wanting to help the world. He recognized that in himself, though not to the same extent.
They ended up going to the prison together. Leo was beyond worrying about people’s reaction to his and Mehmet’s friendship. If they wanted to see something more in it than mere friendship, it was their problem. He was just hoping he wasn’t still hurting Mehmet’s feelings. Something about Mehmet’s reaction seemed rather strong, but other than that, he could detect none of the attraction he’d sensed from Mehmet before.
If Helmut was surprised to see them both, he gave no hint of it. He mainly addressed Leo, but acknowledged Mehmet’s presence too.
“Leo – I – I know it’s too late for apologies, but I – want you to know that I’m terribly sorry about what happened. I shouldn’t have listened to Jan. My only excuse is that I was out of sorts after my daughter’s death and the separation from my wife. But I know that isn’t good enough. Still, I wanted you to know that I wish I’d been able to make my own decisions, not follow Jan’s lead. I let you down, all of you.”
This time, he turned to Mehmet.
“And I want to apologize to you too, Mehmet. I’m proud of you. You stood up to two of your colleagues and expecially to me – your commanding officer. I only wish I’d been as strong myself. If you could – convey my sincere apologies to Kristin too, I’d be grateful.”
Leo found himself drifting back to the conversation he’d had with his father. In a way, this was eerily similar. Another father figure apologizing for something that couldn’t be forgiven. He didn’t know what he felt about Helmut’s apparently sincere regrets. It was too much to take in, so in the end, Leo merely nodded, not sure what to say.
But Helmut didn’t seem to expect a reply from either of them. Clearly, all he’d been concerned with was unburdening himself.
On the way back, both men sat in silence, until the very end.
“I’m betting Haroska doesn’t regret a thing.”
“No, you’re probably right. But – in a way it’s a relief not to have to face him again. I’m just glad it’s all over. Finally, I can get on with my life. What about you?”
“Oh, I’ll probably get back to work. You too?”
“I suppose so. If Kristin could stick it out, after Sylvia exposed her, so can I.”
“Did you hear that Sylvia was demoted and sent to work in another district?”
“No. Well, I’m glad I won’t have to see her again either. I can’t remember what I was thinking when I -”
“You think thinking had anything to do with it?”
Mehmet sounded amused.
To his surprise, Leo too, felt a grin spread across his face. It felt good to be able to joke about love and sex and women like this.
“Probably not. That might explain it. So, what’s happening with your family?”
“My dad was able to buy us out of the marriage contract. Since Elif was seeing someone else, apparently my fault isn’t as great as theirs. We can afford to pretend it was our fault and they will accept our apology and our compensation. And that leaves Elif free to marry again.”
“And you too.”
“If I want to. I mean, it’s not that I’m not into women – I just don’t know if marriage is my thing.”
“Right. Me neither. But you know how it is. One day you meet someone and then – wham. Suddenly, you’re married with two kids and you can’t remember that you ever wanted anything else.”
“Hm. I guess so. Well, why don’t we go out and have a couple of beers? We can drink to women and marriage and children and – the future.”
“Sounds nice. Maybe we should ask Kristin if she wants to tag along.”
“I know. Let’s ask Maria and Marlies. I mean, it’s not as if Jan can do anything about it from his cell.”
Leo stared at Mehmet. It was a while until Mehmet’s tone got through to Leo. His friend was joking. Still, if anything remotely connected to Jan, hadn’t made him feel chilled, it wasn’t such a bad idea. He could definitely stand to get to know Jan’s ex and his grown daughter a little better. And Marlies had a little fatherless boy who would be missing a male role model. But he wasn’t going to tempt fate.
“Better not. It’s a good idea, but – let’s not go there. So, do we call Kristin or not?”
“It’s up to you.”
“Then no. Some other time. This time, just you and me, ok?”
“Great. Just you and me, my friend.”
“Maybe we’ll be working together now.”
“Probably. Or one of us will be working with Kristin.”
“I doubt it. She’ll just be behind the reception desk. But I guess there will be new people coming in now. With Jan and Helmut and Sylvia gone, we’ll need reinforcements.”
“Kristin might be in charge now. Or Stieglitz. Oh, by the way, didn’t you think those two were a bit too close for two colleagues who have just met?”
“But Kristin is -”
“Yeah, except I just heard from Enes that Kristin was dating a pharmacist for a while.”
“Well, well. We seem to have missed a lot. Maria broke up with Jan and Kristin dates men. What else will we learn?”
“As soon as we’re back we’ll find out. I can’t wait. What about you?”
Leo considered. He thought he was ready, but he was dreading his colleagues’ reactions. The night shift were a bunch of prejudiced louts. But the thought of staying alone in his hotel room all day made him change his mind. Anything would be better than that.
“Yeah, me too. Much as I hate to accept any help from my dad, I heard that he kept paying my rent so my place is still available.”
“My place is not. Elif and her boyfriend are living there. I have to get a new place somewhere.”
Leo didn’t stop to consider the wisdom of his decision, he just acted.
“Hey, you can stay with me. Or at least you can have the couch. No, wait. You have my room and I’ll sleep on the couch. That injury -”
“Is completely healed. Never mind that. Are you serious?”
“Of course I’m serious. You and I have shared apartments before, if you recall. It’s no big deal. If you pay part of the rent I’ll be able to afford it on my own and like I said, I hate to be dependent on my dad.”
“Are you sure it’s wise though? What if some of our neanderthal colleagues find out?”
“Let them talk. Lots of guys share apartments. You know how insanely expensive it is to live in this city.”
“In that case – I accept. Thanks. I really appreciate it.”
“Forget it. Best friends, right?”
“And you know, that idea you had about asking Marlies and Maria out – it’s actually quite a good one. If Jan doesn’t like it, tough. They’re both grown women and they can go out with anyone they like. Which one do you fancy?”
Mehmet stared. He had never expected Leo to take his suggestion seriously. But – Maria – despite her unfortunate preference for older men – was a hottie. He could think of far worse women to date.
“Maria. Unless you -”
“No, that’s perfect. Marlies is terrific. In any case, I’ll definitely get in touch. I have to know that she and Ben are alright. And you’ll run into Maria at work. It’s inevitable.”
“Let’s just hope she doesn’t blame us for what happened to her ex.”
“You said it yourself. Her ex. Why should she feel aggravated at us for his crimes?”
“Right. Well, we’ll see. It’s good to be back.”
“It’s wonderful. Despite everything, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere but here.”
They went to one of Mehmet’s old favorite bars and to Leo’s relief, they didn’t run into anyone they knew. The thought of returning to work was comforting. Even if some of their least cultured colleagues would give them trouble, it was nothing. They’d faced worse in the past year. Being back home and back at work was exactly where he wanted to be. Clearly, Mehmet felt the same way. Leo couldn’t help smiling at his friend. Who could have guessed things would work out this well?